Teachers Adapt and React to e-achieve Initiative

Cooper James, Staff Writer

Everyone has seen the changes from last year. There are computers and phones out in every class and people are on a device for most of the day. But these changes aren’t just affecting the students. No. If anything, we weren’t hit the hardest at all. It’s the teachers who really have to adapt to this new change in the classroom the most.

With eAchieve being introduced to the building this year, many teachers are trying to incorporate the new technology into their teaching techniques and activities in class. Some teachers favor this learning environment with technology, while others are still using what has worked for them for many years now. But many teachers are in the middle of this range and unsure how this change will play out.

“Some [teachers] are very hesitant,” said chemistry teacher David VonEhr. “Some don’t see the need for the changes that we’re looking at. I think others are definitely on board. It’s going to take us in directions we don’t anticipate, and that’s not bad. Some are definitely very resistant and some are very open, but most of us are in the middle some place.”

Math and computer science teacher Joe Smith says that he sees the ups and downs of it as well.

“I think conceptually the idea is wonderful. Technology is here to stay, we just need to figure out how to use it productively in an educational setting. That’s very important. But it’s a learning curve for both students and teachers.”

Another teacher who sees how the change is affecting classrooms is English and Social Studies teacher Kristin Chadderdon, who believes that teachers will change, even if they are leery at first.

“I think many teachers are hesitant because of a lot of the potential pitfalls that [technology] brings to the traditional learning environment. However, we’ve been told we will change, and we are professionals, we do our jobs, so we will change.”

A key factor in the amount of use of technology in classrooms thus far has been the material being taught. Each subject has its advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology, and therefore some subjects more naturally gravitate to picking up the new style easier.

“There are certain subjects that seem to be more driven towards the technology,” said VonEhr. “In science, it’s almost a natural thing, just for the labs that we do.”

But science isn’t the only subject that is undergoing a smooth transition.

“English and social studies, I can see [technology] being used a lot,” said Smith. “If I were an English teacher I would be like, ‘Let’s take out our device. You three get together, share a document, and let’s go to town.’ That would be phenomenal. Use is dependant on subject, so I think that some people are willing to jump in and ready to go, and some people are like, ‘I’ll wait and see what happens.’ And I feel that both approaches are completely fine.”

But along with the subject being taught, there are other factors that contribute to the transition to introduce more technology.

“[The transition] also depends on your familiarity and comfort level with technology,” said Chadderdon. “Some teachers just are more comfortable with it than others.”

One teacher who is a big proponent of eAchieve is English teacher Kris Schrotenboer, who has been using devices in her classroom for six years now and believes it is where education is heading.

“I find [technology] to be extremely useful,” said Schrotenboer. “I find that for a lot of students, they like the way it allows them to connect to me.That connectivity allows for better learning. It allows me to do a lot of different activities in the room that are so great for student learning.”

However, some teachers are concerned that the screen time will hinder some areas of the classroom as an effect of being more technologically driven.

“I worry about social interactions. I worry about forming personal relationships being lost,” said Smith. “I feel that a very big part of education is discussion and learning, so when I plan on using [technology] in my class, students will be paired up so that they can take a look at a function and analyze it and discuss between the two of them how it works. Learning very infrequently is accomplished meaningfully by yourself, so despite the fact that technology is here to stay, it’s not substituting technology for what we’re already doing, but supplementing what we’re doing with technology where it’s appropriate.”

Schrotenboer disagrees with the idea that relationships suffer because of the devices in the classroom though. It is her belief that technology is a useful tool in forming even better relationships than before.

“[Technology] helps me establish relationships with my students. A lot of people say to me, ‘How do you have relationships with your kids when they’re sitting behind a computer screen?’ But you learn how to do that. I just find that if they know that I understand their use and how they need to use it, that actually makes me a better teacher for them in their own way.”

However, beyond the improvement or setback of relationships, it seems to be no question that eAchieve has come, at least so far, with some drawbacks.

“The thing that I’m struggling with a little bit, and I’ve already seen it even with my upper level students, is maturity to be on task with what they’re supposed to be doing,” said VonEhr. “I just had a conversation with one of my students today in class about appropriate use of their technology. So I’m a little concerned about that, but we’ll see what happens.”

And he is not the only one with concerns about the potential distractions that technology can bring with it.

“I’m concerned about kids being distracted by all of those common distractions that I have when I’m on my computer,” said Chadderdon. “There’s Facebook and there’s Twitter and there’s Pinterest and all those other things that you can have tabbed at the top that just are distractors. It’s not that the students aren’t trying to listen or trying to learn, but there’s all those potential distractions.”

Schrotenboer points out that by allowing devices to be openly used in the classroom, students are expected to take on that task with responsibility and maturity.

“We’re expecting the kids to use their devices to do school, and that’s a new mentality for a lot of kids who want to play games on their phone and check the sports scores. So that’s a whole new mentality for students to think, ‘I’m actually in school and have to use my time to do school.’ And as that training occurs, and as kids begin to realize that, I think that’s going to be huge for a lot of people.”

But along with the early setback of distractions for the students, the technology poses other problems as well.

“I know that so far there have been growing pains as far as being able to use [the technology] and that is frustrating not only for the students but also for the staff,” said Smith. “If a staff member spends an hour preparing for a day and then there’s nothing, they’re much more likely to never do it again.”

Another one of the early drawbacks is the network issues that have arisen from the sudden burst of technology with so many people on their devices at once now.

“We are aware of [the network issues],” said Schrotenboer. “It’s a situation where, unfortunately, we didn’t know how many kids would actually come with devices, and so we are now making adjustments as we go. That’s hard. It’s hard on teachers, it’s hard on kids, it’s hard on the tech department. But we’re all working together through it, and it’s going to work out great.”

VonEhr and Chadderdon also brought up the points that it is sometimes difficult to teach the technology to students with the limited background on technology that some of the teachers have. Also, students are capable of using their devices to work around the system and simply google answers that the lesson was meant to teach. This deterrent of creative thinking is another reason that some teachers have mixed feelings about using technology.

But along with some of the initial negatives of eAchieve, there are obviously improvements that the program has brought too.

“There are very cool things that you can do with technology if everybody’s got it,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of cool stuff that you can do to interact and bring more engagement and more individualized engagement to students. But I think in order to really take advantage of that, you have to have the time to put into it. It can be win-win and it can be lose-lose. It’s all a matter of opinion and perspective.”

Chadderdon also expressed her opinion on the positives that personal devices can have on the classroom.

“It’s nice to say, ‘pull out your devices,’ and we can do something without planning a week ahead to get a lab or having to do groups because I only have a certain number of chromebooks available. So I do see [technology] as allowing teachers to be more flexible with things like that.”

But beyond the classroom, there are other values that eAchieve is teaching as well.

“I really feel that when you go into the workforce you have to be able to use technology,” said Schrotenboer. “It’s just that simple. It’s going to make you a better worker, it’s going to make you a better employee, and more employable. When you go into the workplace you have to be able to sit by a computer and not play games on it, not check your Facebook, not check your Instagram and your Snapchat. So that’s been good, and that’s going to continue to be a good thing for students to have the opportunity to learn, the difference between play and work with the use of a device.”

Appropriately using devices is a large problem that the teachers have seen thus far, but many agree that with effective use, the technology can be a huge asset to their teaching.

“As a whole, the kids have phones and devices already. They’re using them non-stop,” said VonEhr. “The trick is, how do we incorporate that properly, and how do we educate the population including adults and teachers? So how do we, as a population, educate ourselves on the proper use within the academic environment?”

And other teachers agree that how effectively devices are used in the classroom will impact the amount that they are incorporated into the daily routines.

“This isn’t about switching completely over to a green school,” said Schrotenboer. “This is about using technology to enhance the delivery of the curriculum. If it’s not going to enhance the delivery of the curriculum, teachers aren’t going to use it. They’ll use it based on how well it’s going to help students understand the concepts that need to be learned in the class.”

Effectiveness is also based on how well the teachers understand and can use the technology to enhance learning. The teachers have undergone professional development sessions designed to accustom them to the new system and how that can be used in class, but it is still apparent that the transition to using devices isn’t fully complete.

“I do think more training is needed as far as helping teachers see how they can use [technology] effectively in their classrooms instead of just using it to use it,” said Chadderdon. “We have to use it in a more effective manner that really does enhance learning instead of just, ‘oh here’s a cool thing.’ But we just need some more training on that I think.”

Smith also agrees that teachers could use more training on how to bring technology into the classroom smoothly.

“I think that everybody could use more training, but I’ve sat through all of the training lots of times and training is tough. Teachers do not make good students. I feel that we could all use more training, and by training I really just mean time. My perfect professional development would be to take the math teachers and lock them in a room for four hours and say, ‘Have fun. Tell me what you learned.’ Some of the best learning that I’ve done has simply come from, ‘Hey how did you teach that lesson three days ago?’ ‘Wow I never thought of that!’ That’s the learning that we need, not necessarily structured learning.”

And as teachers get more accustomed to using devices in the classroom, using devices should get easier for everyone.

“I think that in a year we will certainly have a better idea of what student needs are,” said Schrotenboer. “We’re going to see a lot more comfort both on the parts of teachers and students. People are going to be feeling a lot better about how to use their device and what they have to do to get this on Classroom and all of those things. That, right now, we’re kind of feeling our way through.”

But she also emphasizes that eAchieve is not meant to bring about sweeping changes to the traditional classroom.

“You’re not going to use this every hour of every day of every class. It’s unrealistic and quite honestly unhealthy. It’s not healthy to be staring at a screen all day, it’s just not. That does not help people.”

But even if screen time isn’t present going from class to class, it will mostly like be consistent from year to year going forward.

“It has been my experience in my eighteen years here that when the administration makes a decision, they typically don’t go back on their decision,” said Chadderdon. “I do think that this is something they are dedicated to for the long haul. It saves them having to have computer labs. It allows them a lot more flexibility and teachers and students to have access to technology. That seems to be the way of the future.”

But these changes do seem to have been very drastic to implement in just one summer’s time.

“In one year I went from taking cell phones used in the classroom, taking computers being used in the classroom, to encouraging [students] to have them on in the classroom. One year. That’s a big change in one year,” said VonEhr. “So I think we’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work and hopefully it’ll all play itself out.”

And only when everything has played itself out will people know if these changes are truly for the better.

“I don’t think change for the sake of change is a good idea,” said Chadderdon. “But if change enhances student learning and engagement in the classroom, then I think it’s a good change.”